Saturday, September 27, 2008
THE BIRTH CONTROL COMMISSION
TURNING POINT by Robert McClory - chapter 13
This chapter reports on the third and final meeting of the commission in 1966, consisting of fifteen cardinals and bishops.
Since Ottaviani had been appointed Commission president for this session, speculation mounted that he might try to ram through his agenda on the strength of sheer authority. But the aged head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the new name of the Holy Office) remained strangely distant (almost as if he knew something the others did not) and dozed through many of the discussions.(p. 119)
It seemed as though Bishop Colombo, a man very close to Pope Paul, had been assigned the task of carrying the banner for retention of the status quo. And he tried mightily. But a series of events during the first two days of the session served to undercut his initiative and instead direct the gathered hierarchy in the direction of change.
McClory summarizes the opposing positions.
...the vast majority of the Commission was now in full agreement that the Church ought to change its ban on contraception while upholding the overall procreative purposes of marriage....their council, had extolled the "witness of the faithful"--the ability of ordinary Christians directed by the Holy Spirit to perceive what is true and what isn't. No longer appropriate, he said, was Pius X's distinction between the Church that teaches and the Church that listens: especially in discerning the morality of contraception, married couples ought to be among the teachers. (pp 120-121)
The conservatives claimed the Church had condemned contraception in its ordinary teaching from the beginning; on the other hand, countered the liberals, there was variances, even contradictions. Conservatives then argued that marital intercourse tended by nature toward conception, so any interference should be seen as unnatural and evil; on the other hand, argued liberals, the Church had long approved interference with nature (though (sic) medical operations, for example) for the human race. But permitting contraception might start the Church down the slippery slope toward other aberrations including abortion and sterilization, pointed out the conservative side; on the other hand, argued the liberals, these aberrations were distinct from contraception and their immorality could be argued on other grounds.
In his conclusion, de Riedmatten reminded these cardinals and bishops how the Vatican Council,
Cardinal Ottaviani thought it would be helpful to exhume from the Vatican archives the background papers on the old encyclical and immediately sent someone over to find them. He was unsuccessful. De Riedmatten said he too had tried to find them in vain; apparently they were lost. At that point Patty Crowley began to worry about the ultimate fate of the papers and reports from the present meeting. (p. 121)
Doepfner declared that Casti Connubii is not infallible and is subject to doctrinal development--just as Vatican II approved of religious liberty without apologizing for its past assertions about "no salvation outside the Church." (p. 121)
Cardinal Gracias of Bombay arose....At first he sounded like John Ford. "If the Church changes here," he said, "then there will be a crisis in Christendom and the Church's enemies will rejoice." But, he continued, "There is a resurrection after every death. The Church will survive. And we must find a way to help couples." (p. 121)
Bishop Colombo, alarmed by what seemed Gracias's defection...interrupted the cardinal. If the Church backtracks on contraception, he warned his colleagues, they "would endanger the very indefectability of the Church, the teacher of truth in these things which pertain to salvation. Wouldn't this mean the gates of hell had in some way prevailed against the Church?"
Zalba could not agree more. "What then," he asked, "with the millions we have sent to hell if these norms were not valid?"
Patty Crowley could not restrain herself. "Father Zalba," she interjected, "do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?"
A momentary stunned silence followed... (p. 122)
At this point I would interject that the Church has sent souls to hell for eating meat on Friday. Today we are permitted to eat meat on Friday substituting some other form of penitence in place of the old prohibition.
[Fuchs] withdrew permission from his publishers to reprint his popular textbook on Catholic morality, which presented Casti Connubii in glowing terms. Earlier in 1966 he had stopped teaching moral theology at the Gregorian University because he no longer wished to defend a position he did not personally accept. He had come to understand how doctrine develops, said Fuchs, how a specific condemnation must be withdrawn when the rationale behind it is no longer persuasive. "There has been an evolution in doctrine since Casti Connubii under Pius XII and at Vatican II," he said. "And this evolution has been moving in one direction: away from the notion that each contraceptive act is intrinsically evil." (pp 122-123)
Ford stated that he would "never compromise" and that "Contraception...involves a will which is turned against new life at this moment. It is against this life, in advance, that is, against its coming to be..." He believed "that contraception was a violation of human life and Christian chastity."
Ford and his colleagues Visser, Zalba, and de Lestapis, were not successful in dissuading the rest of the commission from accepting contraception as an option for couples.
"Cardinal Doepfner tried to further defuse Ford's comments.Casti Connubii is not infallible, he reiterated, and there would be no harm in saying for once that the Church has been wrong..." (p. 124)
The vote was taken on June 24. Three questions were voted upon.
1. "Is contraception intrinsically evil?" (9 said no, 3 said yes, 3 abstained)
2. "Is contraception, as defined by the Majority Report, in basic continuity with tradition and the declarations of the Magisterium?" (9 yes, 5 no, 1 abstention)
3. "Should the magisterium speak on this question as soon as possible?" (14 yes, 1 no)
Colombo, the Pope's theologian, said, "His Holiness will never accept the proposition that contraception is not intrinsically evil." Then he added, "He [the Pope] would agree only to this: a letter to the world's bishops telling them their people are not to be disturbed. It is not necessary to disturb couples who practice contraception; close your eyes!" (p. 127)
That, I would submit, describes what has happened. H.V. was issued, but the pastoral approach was taken. Don't ask, don't tell. It is even the path that a commenter in this blog has indicated Europe follows. Give your voice over to H.V. Do what you need to do in the privacy of the marriage bed. If the commenter was correct, the precedent for this approach was set when the Papal Birth Control Commission came up with this strategy.
On June 25, the final day, Bishop Dupuy read a short pastoral document he had prepared as an introduction to the Majority Report. It said in part, "All this teaching...has in many countries produced lay and Christian family movements which have contributed powerfully to a deeper understanding of marriage and the demands of marriage union....What is to be condemned is not the regulation of conception but a selfish married life, refusing creative opening out of the family circle....As for the means that husband and wife can legitimately employ, it is their task to decide this together, without drifting into arbitrary decisions, but always taking into account the objective criteria of morality." It was approved in full after some discussion.(p. 127-128)
The work of the Papal Birth Control Commission was finished at last. The experts, the married couples, the bishops, and cardinals--all appointed by the Pope--had spoken with a nearly unanimous voice. That night as everyone shared a gala dinner together, a sense of achievement, even peace, pervaded the celebration.
"I don't think there was a doubt in any of the minds that the Pope would follow the Commission report," said Patty Crowley, "after the endorsement of all those theologians and the cardinals and bishops."...
"I felt sure the problem was settled once and for all," recalled Laurent Potvin, "and I was very optimistic. "Then my wife said, 'Laurent, don't be so excited. Don't you see Cardinal Ottaviani sitting up there?"